Anxiety effectively treated with exercise – sciencedaily


Moderate and intense exercise alleviates symptoms of anxiety, even when the disorder is chronic, according to a study by researchers at Gothenburg University.

The study, now published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, is based on 286 anxiety syndrome patients recruited from primary care wards in Gothenburg and northern Halland County. Half of the patients had lived with anxiety for at least ten years. Their average age was 39 and 70 percent were female.

By lottery, participants were assigned to moderate or intense group exercise sessions for 12 weeks. The results show that their anxiety symptoms were significantly alleviated even when the anxiety was a chronic illness, compared to a control group who received physical activity counseling according to public health recommendations.

Most individuals in the treatment groups went from a moderate to high baseline anxiety level to a low anxiety level after the 12 week program. For those who exercised at a relatively low intensity, the odds of improvement in terms of anxiety symptoms were multiplied by 3.62. The corresponding factor for those who exercised at a higher intensity was 4.88. Participants had no knowledge of the physical training or advice that people outside of their own group were receiving.

“There was a significant intensity trend of improvement – that is, the more intensely they exercised, the more their anxiety symptoms improved,” says Malin Henriksson, a doctoral student at the Sahlgrenska Academy of the University of Gothenburg, specialist in general medicine in Halland. Region, and first author of the study.

Importance of intense exercise

Previous studies of exercise in depression have shown marked improvement in symptoms. However, a clear picture of how anxious people are affected by exercise has been lacking so far. This study is described as one of the most important to date.

Both treatment groups had 60-minute workouts three times a week, under the direction of a physiotherapist. The sessions included both cardio (aerobic) and strength training. A warm-up was followed by a circle workout around 12 stations for 45 minutes, and the sessions concluded with a cool-down and stretching.

Group members who exercised at a moderate level were expected to reach about 60% of their maximum heart rate – a degree of exertion considered light to moderate. In the group that trained more intensely, the goal was to reach 75 percent of maximum heart rate, and this level of exertion was perceived as high.

The levels were regularly validated using the Borg scale, a rating scale established for perceived physical exertion, and confirmed with heart rate monitors.

New simple treatments needed

The current standard treatments for anxiety are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychotropic medications. However, these drugs usually have side effects and patients with anxiety disorders often do not respond to medical treatment. Long wait times for CBT can also worsen the prognosis.

The present study was led by Maria Åberg, Associate Professor at the Sahlgrenska Academy of the University of Gothenburg, specialist in general medicine in the organization of primary health care in the Västra Götaland region and corresponding author.

“Primary care physicians need individualized treatments that have few side effects and are easy to prescribe. The 12 week model of physical training, regardless of intensity, represents an effective treatment that should be more often available on the front line. for people with anxiety problems, ”says Åberg.

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